Thu | Dec 3, 2020

What’s Christopher Tufton’s state of mind?

Published:Monday | July 29, 2019 | 12:00 AM
Christopher Tufton (left) speaks with Edward Seaga after the former prime minister delivered his inaugural lecture as a Distinguished Fellow at the Mona Visitors’ Lodge and Conference Centre on the Mona campus of The University of the West Indies in May 2005.
Dr. Christopher Tufton holds the Bible aloft during his swearing-in as a Cabinet minister in the Bruce Golding administration at King’s House in 2007.
Christopher Tufton takes his seat in the Senate in 2005.
Book cover of State of Mind
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I was raised by the village. There was a sense of responsibility among ourselves; we were each other’s brother’s keeper, as it were. Children moved from one yard to another, and could always be sure they would receive a meal wherever they went. I remember my grandmother forgoing her own dinner in order for a visiting child to eat.

It was a working-class community. My mother was the eighth of eleven children. My grandparents, both originally from Hanbury District and Bonitto Crescent in Mandeville, were from humble backgrounds. My grandfather was a mason and backyard farmer and sometimes a truck driver. My grandmother was a housewife in the first few decades of their marriage, but later worked as a household helper to supplement the family’s income. My aunts and uncles were employed as plumbers, office helpers, secretaries, and office administrators; there was a minister of religion and a lab technician.

I may not have had a father or an ideal two-parent home, but I had everything I needed to succeed. I attended pre-school and then primary school. Perhaps one of the factors auguring for my eventual success was that my Aunt Annette worked at the Manchester Parish Library and always ensured I had books to read, and that I read them.

And I had a lot of love.

On political awakening in high school

High school was when I began to form my views on politics, and when I became aware of different ideological perspectives and the different ways of understanding how economics, politics, and societies were shaped by policies and political actions. Vice Principal Curlew Williams, who had been so important in my personal turnaround, was also my A Level economics teacher, and he was instrumental in my political awakening.

Williams enjoyed being challenged on his positions, and I was extremely stimulated by the discussion and by the opportunity to take on my teacher in debate. Williams always pointed to the intersections of politics and economics, and ensured that we understood that they were intertwined and how – lessons that I have never forgotten and that always informed my political positions.

At first I just listened to the arguments. I would go to the library and do my own research. I began reading the newspapers with a more informed understanding of how things worked. Then as I grew surer of my opinions, I began to engage, contesting him whenever and wherever I could. At first I took Williams on just to play devil’s advocate, but over time my views evolved and deepened, and I informed myself more in order to make my arguments stronger. Ironically, Williams leaned to the left, and perhaps it was in my zeal to counter his arguments that my own views developed to be more centrist and even right-of-centre.

These debates were key to my political education and the path that I eventually followed. It was an ironic outcome that Williams’s greatest influence on me would be to hone my politics to be virtually opposite to his own.

On sexuality and human rights

I set off for Atlanta to do my master’s degree in marketing in 1993, a recipient of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Scholarship. It was everything I had wanted and expected. It was a tremendous learning experience, and not only because of what was transmitted in the classroom.

I met other people from many different countries, ethnic backgrounds, religious persuasions, and what were to me, at the time, alternative lifestyles. Though most of Georgia is still very conservative and typical of the US South, Atlanta is a cosmopolitan, global city. This was the first time I saw Muslim women dressed head to toe in black, with only their eyes visible. I saw first-hand how beautiful and regal Ethiopian and Eritrean women were. And it was also the first time I was made to confront people living openly and comfortably as homosexuals.

I had left Jamaica a fairly typical homophobic young man. Growing up in Jamaica, as I did, in a conservative Christian family in a small town, and then living on Chancellor Hall for my university studies, meant that I imbibed and accepted the mainstream messages and thinking on sexuality. I was never violently homophobic, nor did I have particularly strong feelings about the issue, in part, because I was never forced to articulate any definitive position on the matter. But I felt, as I am sure many in Jamaica coming from a similar background did, that homosexuality was wrong and somehow unnatural.

Living in Atlanta was the first step towards dismantling my closed-mindedness. In neighbourhoods like Buckhead, I witnessed same sex couples, men dressed as women, women dressed as men, and many other variations on what I had been taught was ‘standard’ or ‘normal’ in terms of gendered behaviour.

Not only was I witness to people openly and comfortably living in these ‘alternative’ (to me) ways, I was also cognizant of the fact that they were left alone. They went about their business, went to work or school, went home to their families, socialized, shopped, and dined in restaurants just as I did. And no one bothered them, just as no one bothered me.

I was raised by the village. There was a sense of responsibility among ourselves; we were each other’s brother’s keeper, as it were. Children moved from one yard to another, and could always be sure they would receive a meal wherever they went. I remember my grandmother forgoing her own dinner in order for a visiting child to eat.

It was a working-class community. My mother was the eighth of eleven children. My grandparents, both originally from Hanbury District and Bonitto Crescent in Mandeville, were from humble backgrounds. My grandfather was a mason and backyard farmer and sometimes a truck driver. My grandmother was a housewife in the first few decades of their marriage, but later worked as a household helper to supplement the family’s income. My aunts and uncles were employed as plumbers, office helpers, secretaries, and office administrators; there was a minister of religion and a lab technician.

I may not have had a father or an ideal two-parent home, but I had everything I needed to succeed. I attended pre-school and then primary school. Perhaps one of the factors auguring for my eventual success was that my Aunt Annette worked at the Manchester Parish Library and always ensured I had books to read, and that I read them. And I had a lot of love.

High school was when I began to form my views on politics, and when I became aware of different ideological perspectives and the different ways of understanding how economics, politics, and societies were shaped by policies and political actions. Vice Principal Curlew Williams, who had been so important in my personal turnaround, was also my A Level economics teacher, and he was instrumental in my political awakening.

Williams enjoyed being challenged on his positions, and I was extremely stimulated by the discussion and by the opportunity to take on my teacher in debate. Williams always pointed to the intersections of politics and economics, and ensured that we understood that they were intertwined and how – lessons that I have never forgotten and that always informed my political positions.

At first I just listened to the arguments. I would go to the library and do my own research. I began reading the newspapers with a more informed understanding of how things worked. Then as I grew surer of my opinions, I began to engage, contesting him whenever and wherever I could. At first I took Williams on just to play devil’s advocate, but over time my views evolved and deepened, and I informed myself more in order to make my arguments stronger. Ironically, Williams leaned to the left, and perhaps it was in my zeal to counter his arguments that my own views developed to be more centrist and even right-of-centre.

These debates were key to my political education and the path that I eventually followed. It was an ironic outcome that Williams’s greatest influence on me would be to hone my politics to be virtually opposite to his own.

On sexuality and human rights

I set off for Atlanta to do my master’s degree in marketing in 1993, a recipient of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Scholarship. It was everything I had wanted and expected. It was a tremendous learning experience, and not only because of what was transmitted in the classroom.

I met other people from many different countries, ethnic backgrounds, religious persuasions, and what were to me, at the time, alternative lifestyles. Though most of Georgia is still very conservative and typical of the US South, Atlanta is a cosmopolitan, global city. This was the first time I saw Muslim women dressed head to toe in black, with only their eyes visible. I saw first-hand how beautiful and regal Ethiopian and Eritrean women were. And it was also the first time I was made to confront people living openly and comfortably as homosexuals.

I had left Jamaica a fairly typical homophobic young man. Growing up in Jamaica, as I did, in a conservative Christian family in a small town, and then living on Chancellor Hall for my university studies, meant that I imbibed and accepted the mainstream messages and thinking on sexuality. I was never violently homophobic, nor did I have particularly strong feelings about the issue, in part, because I was never forced to articulate any definitive position on the matter. But I felt, as I am sure many in Jamaica coming from a similar background did, that homosexuality was wrong and somehow unnatural.

Living in Atlanta was the first step towards dismantling my closed-mindedness. In neighbourhoods like Buckhead, I witnessed same sex couples, men dressed as women, women dressed as men, and many other variations on what I had been taught was ‘standard’ or ‘normal’ in terms of gendered behaviour.

Not only was I witness to people openly and comfortably living in these ‘alternative’ (to me) ways, I was also cognizant of the fact that they were left alone. They went about their business, went to work or school, went home to their families, socialized, shopped, and dined in restaurants just as I did. And no one bothered them, just as no one bothered me.